Let me start by saying everyone’s situation is different. Do you want to jetset around in first class bouncing from one luxury resort to another or are you content with riding on busses and sleeping in hostels? Street food or restaurants? Knowing the level of comfort/luxury you want to have is key in knowing how much to budget.
Breada and I plan on mixing it up in terms of level of luxury. We love hostels, and in many circumstances I prefer hostels over hotels. Meeting people is one of my favorite parts of traveling and some of the most interesting people I have met I met at hostels. That being said, every now and again you need time to charge the batteries and sleep in a room without a dozen other people in it. However, that doesn’t always mean you have to spend a ton of money. In many parts of Southeast Asia a private room can be found for less than $15 a night.
When figuring out how much we would need, I first figured out the pre-trip expenses. These include:
- Flights (Varies)
- Backpack (~ $100-300)
- Travel Insurance (~$600 for 1 year )
- Clothing (Hopefully nothing!)
- Travel Vaccinations (~$0 – a shit load)
- Medications (Varies)
- Toiletries (Varies)
Not everyone will have these same expenses. For example, what is normally the biggest expense, the flight, Breada and I paid for in frequent flyer miles + $26 bucks. This saved us about $3000. Unless you’re an avid travel hacker and have hundreds of thousands of miles at your disposal, I’d budget a few grand towards your flights if you plan on going to multiple continents. If you’re spending all your time on one you can usually get a roundtrip flight for about $800-1300 USD.
Some of these things you may not need at all, like travel insurance. A week vacation to The Bahamas? You’re probably ok skipping the insurance. A year trekking through jungles and climbing mountains? You should probably spend the extra couple bucks a day and get it.
With any luck you already have traveled a little bit or hike regularly and have a quality backpack to take with you.The first backpack I ever bought, an Osprey Atmos 65, got me through 4 different trips to Europe before I sold it to it’s next companion. Even after those trips it still had years of life left, I just wanted a front loader instead of a top loader. I could write a whole post on purchasing your first bag. Maybe on a slow news week I will.
You also may already have the proper clothing for wherever you plan on visiting. This may not seem very important, but trust me it is. What you wear regularly back home may not be suitable for where you’re going. For example, I’m in Cambodia right now where the temperature regularly breaks 100 degrees and the humidity is unbearable. My typical jeans and a t shirt style just wouldn’t fly over here. Some people do it, but they’re bat shit crazy if you ask me. Just thinking about jeans makes me sweat. If you’re traveling to a tropical area such as Southeast Asia I highly recommend athletic clothing i.e lightweight breathable fabrics. Trust me, it will save you a lot of sweat and aggravation in the long run.
Travel vaccinations are not required in every country, and depending where you go you may not need any. This particular expense ( if you live in the US ) is a costly one if you don’t have health insurance that covers them ( and most of them don’t ). Do your research on where you plan on traveling and see if these make sense for you.
PRO TIP FOR MA RESIDENTS : Neighborhood Health Plan covers vaccinations at Mass General (at least if you’re on MassHealth). Call to confirm but this could potentially save you thousands of dollars if NHP is your healthcare provider.
Once you have your pre-trip expenses purchased, or the money set aside for them, start researching how much you expect to spend in the countries you’re traveling to. This is where your level of luxury comes into play. This website and this post are focused more on the low range of travel i.e hostels, street food, etc. If you are looking to take a luxury vacation, you’re probably not viewing this page anyway.
I can’t get into how much to expect to spend for each country and each level of comfort. I don’t have that much knowledge nor time/energy to write a post that long. I will point you in the direction of an invaluable resource I have used for my planning : Price of Travel.
Price of Travel is one of the websites I turn to most when planning to go somewhere new. It has just about every major city you will be going indexed and the prices you should expect to pay there. After using it through England, Portugal, Thailand, and Cambodia I gotta say it’s pretty damn accurate. The price of travel index is calculated using these costs :
- A dorm bed at a good and cheap hostel
- 3 budget meals
- 2 public transportation rides
- 1 paid cultural attraction
- 3 cheap beers (as an “entertainment fund”)
The traditional index is focused on a backpackers budget, but they also have an index factoring in a three star hotel and pricier meals should that lifestyle be more your speed.
Keep in mind these numbers aren’t an exact science. There have been days where I spent much less than the index estimates and some days I blew through the estimate before noon. Also, traveling as a couple helps tremendously in terms of saving money. Private rooms in S.E Asia are often not much more than a dorm bed so it’s cheaper for us to split a private than each pay for a dorm bed. We can also split the cost of food and other things such a motorbike rental to save on transportation costs. Traveling long-term with no steady income you have to find ways to cut costs. For example, walk instead of taking public transportation, cook instead of eating out, or opt for free attractions rather than paid ones. Regardless, Price of Travel is a great starting point for figuring out about how much you’ll be spending per day where you’re going. Because I’d rather budget for more and have extra instead of running out of money early, I’d add 20-30% on top of whatever the index suggests.
You should also keep an “in case shit happens” fund while you’re away, because inevitably shit does indeed happen. Depending on the length of your trip this can be a couple hundred bucks to a few thousand. Being away for a year+, we budgeted about $2000 each for this. With any luck we won’t have to dip into it, but it’s comforting knowing that we have money set aside outside our daily budget should something happen.
So by now you should have a rough idea what you should budget and how much you’ll be spending each day while traveling. The magic number for Breada and myself is $40 a day each not counting flights and other pre-trip expenses. This is quite high for S.E Asia but when we move to other parts of the world it will all balance out. Like I said earlier, make your budget a little higher so you will be more likely to save money rather than blow through your cash too soon.
Everyone will have a different budget. I don’t have all the answers because this question is so dependent on the traveler themselves, how they want to travel, and what they need in preparation. Hopefully, this post gives you an idea of how to plan your own budget and if not, you at least saw how we planned ours 🙂
Comment with how much you budgeted for your own adventure!
Stay Tuned! An exciting post is on the way for all you data lovers out there as I kept track of our expenses our first month away! Also, a follow-up post to this one will be out soon giving tips on how to save money for the trip you just budgeted!